This morning, the PA Writing and Literature Project (PAWLP) welcomed a new Associate Director, Dr. Pauline Schmidt. After walking up the narrow and familiar steps to the PAWLP office, I entered to find a roomful of teachers seated around a large table, each writing in their notebooks.
“We just got started with some brief reflections on PAWLP to share with Pauline,” whispered Mary, the project director. I was quickly welcomed to a seat and began to write.
I first got involved with the writing project in 2008 when I completed PAWLP’s summer reading institute. Three years later, I completed the writing institute, and in between, I took several other courses at the project. Today I’m honored to serve on PAWLP’s advisory board with a truly extraordinary group of accomplished teachers.
As each teacher welcomed Pauline to the writing project, I was struck by the stories that everyone shared about what PAWLP has meant to them. Over and over again, teachers remarked how PAWLP has been like a second home, a place that has helped energize and inspire them to become agents of change and advocates of best practices on behalf of their students. PAWLP is a place to go to find like-minded individuals, but also a place to find colleagues who will challenge you, who force you to question your assumptions, and who push you to grow.
I wish more teachers could experience the strength of professional learning (and writing) communities like PAWLP. When it was my turn to welcome Pauline and to share what the writing project has meant to me, I echoed what many had already said. But for me, what I’ve realized recently is that it’s the people I’d met through PAWLP who made the most meaningful difference in my professional life. I have met friends and mentors through the writing project—individuals willing to make time on a Saturday morning to come together to write and think together. And it’s because of these people that I’ve had numerous professional opportunities—opportunities to come together and share stories from our classrooms, to problem-solve, to collaborate, to teach fellow teachers—and in the process, to stretch, to grow. My PAWLP colleagues give me the courage and confidence to take risks in my classroom, to have honest conversations with myself about what’s best for my students.
Teachers can be easy targets in the media, blamed for failing schools and low test scores. Teacher unions have been systematically weakened and attacked by political forces that know nothing about what being in a classroom, day in and day out, is like. This morning, during our PAWLP continuity session, I watched more than a dozen teachers gather to look at a piece of student writing that one of the teachers had brought in. She had come looking for feedback about how to assess this student’s writing according to the Six Traits model. I listened as the group engaged in deep conversation about what makes writing successful, and more importantly, how to approach assessment in a way that inspires student confidence and growth. I walked away challenged to think about how I assess student writing, how I confer with students and the language I use when I talk about their writing. By the time I got in my car for the 45-minute drive back home, I knew I’d be a better teacher because of the time spent this morning with this group of friends and mentors.
When I was little, I used to love Saturday mornings, as I often jumped out of bed early to watch my favorite Saturday morning cartoons. Although I’ve left the Smurfs and Scooby Doo behind me, I still love Saturday mornings—especially ones like today.
This post is part of the “Slice of Life” series, organized by the teachers at Two Writing Teachers, whose goal is to give teachers a place to write and reflect. This March, more than 300 teachers have committed to daily writing. If you’d like to read more “slices” (from other teachers and even some students), visit twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/challenges.